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House splitting legislation on incentives, tourism funding

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In a letter to fellow members, state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz says House leadership now is planning to bifurcate its legislation to eliminate Enterprise Florida and to overhaul VISIT FLORIDA.

The Senate, however, so far still intends to keep Enterprise Florida as part of its economic development tool chest.

On Monday, Diaz – the Miami-Dade Republican who chairs the House Commerce Committee – wrote an email titled “Accountability – Everyone is for it, Right? We’ll see…” about his chamber’s proposal (HB 7005).

“We have heard from members and stakeholders that they would prefer if Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA were addressed in separate bills,” he wrote. “Dividing the issues into separate bills allows for more engaged and meaningful debate while putting VISIT FLORIDA on a path to real reform.”

Originally, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, aimed to abolish both the state’s economic development organization, dispenser of many of the state’s business incentives, and its tourism marketing agency, both public-private endeavors.

The speaker had threatened to sue VISIT FLORIDA after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism, later revealed to be worth up to $1 million. The ensuing controversy cost former agency CEO Will Seccombe his job.

But Corcoran later decided to salvage the tourism agency from the legislative wrecking ball, though stripping it down to a bare $25 million yearly budget from nearly $80 million.

As is, the combined bill cleared its review panels and was ready to be considered by the full House when the 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7.

Its sponsor, Republican Paul Renner of Palm Coast, has instead filed new legislation (HB 9) that addresses VISIT FLORIDA on its own. It will first be heard March 6 by the Rules & Policy Committee, the House website shows.

It “contains the accountability and oversight provisions introduced last week,” Diaz said. “The bill also tightens private matching requirements and clarifies that VISIT FLORIDA funding will be addressed in the budget.

“HB 7005 will also be amended in the Rules and Policy Committee to focus solely on Enterprise Florida and other economic development programs,” he added.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development, last week filed his own economic development legislation.

It would leave VISIT FLORIDA alone, and overhaul but not get rid of Enterprise Florida and incentive programs.

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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